MUMBAI, India, Jan 29, 2008 -- Two dialysis patients from New York are being held in India on suspicion of involvement in a crime ring that forced poor Indians to give up their kidneys for transplant, authorities announced today.
The two Americans have not yet been charged in a crime, but police are "examining" the situation, said Manjit Ahlawat, joint police commissioner of the city of Gurgaon in Haryana state.
Indian authorities identified the patients to ABC News, which is not publishing their identities until conducting further verification. The patients are undergoing treatment at a hospital in New Delhi.
They have been forbidden from leaving the country because they were believed to have been waiting for an illegal kidney transplant.
Police last weekend swooped down on the alleged ring, which officials estimated stole 500 to 600 kidneys from poor people in Gurgaon, a high-tech city on the outskirts of New Delhi.
The kidneys were transplanted into the bodies of wealthy Indians or foreigners. Five foreign tourists, including the two Americans, were found Saturday in what police described as a "luxury guest house," awaiting kidneys. There was reportedly a transplant waiting list of some 40 foreigners from at least five countries.
The mastermind behind the scam is believed to be Dr. Amit Kumar (also known as Dr. Santosh Raut), whom Mumbai police have been pursuing since 1993. The doctor had previously been arrested in Delhi in 2000 for involvement in the illegal trade of organs.
Unsuspecting victims of the scam said they were promised a job, then taken to a private house and forced at gunpoint to sell a kidney. The transplants occurred inside the house, which was equipped with a hidden state-of-the-art operating room. Those who sold their kidneys received about 50,000 rupees, or $1,300 — although wealthy clients were said to have paid 10 times that amount.
Some victims said they had not agreed to sell their organs but were "given some money so they wouldn't talk" after their kidneys were stolen from them, Ahlawat said. These people reportedly received between $1,280 and $2,560.
Many victims were told that they needed to undergo a blood test screening for a potential job, only to wake up to find they had undergone surgery and had a kidney extracted.
"I was approached by a stranger for a job. When I accepted, I was taken to a room with gunmen," Mohammed Salim told India's local NDTV television channel. "They tested my blood, gave me an injection and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I had pain in my lower abdomen and I was told that my kidney had been removed."
Suspicious neighbors said they had noticed blood running out of the house's gutters, as well as blood-soaked bandages and even bits of flesh thrown into an open lot near the house, according to Reuters.
The doctor accused of heading the group may have fled the country and as many as 50 medical officials may have been involved in the racket, according to police. A spokeswoman for Interpol told ABC News that the agency had not been asked by the Indian authorities to issue an international arrest warrant.
Detectives from Mumbai, where the doctor allegedly ran a previous illegal kidney racket, are working with authorities in Gurgaon.